Your chance to be an expert before the Olympics start

Book review - Dean Goodison

Published 30/07/2016 | 00:00

How to Watch the Olympics
How to Watch the Olympics

The moment every four years that thousands of Irish sit in front of their TVs, suddenly transformed into experts in beach volleyball, is just over two weeks away.

The speed and ferocity of water polo is like nothing else for those few days, certainly like nothing you'll watch again for another four years. But what if you could become an 'expert' before the festival of sport, that is the Olympic Games, even kicks off? Google, you say?

Good option, but everything you really need to know is in 'How to Watch the Olympics' by David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton, a re-released and updated version of the same book that hit the shelves before London 2012.

It's fair to say the title of the publication is a little misleading. A book that really explains 'how to watch' to the viewer, eloquently and in bullet-point form, are the instructions for your Samsung 50-inch flat-screen. This book delves into the sports that make up the Olympics, and in reality it is over four hundred pages of explanation and history.

Fittingly, Goldblatt and Acton begin and end their publication the way the 'Games' start and finish, with a rundown of the opening and closing ceremonies. These sections are much like the spectacles themselves; if you enjoy the dancing and prancing you'll enjoy the chapters, but if you turn it off and set a reminder for the actual sport, you'll feel the urge to skip past these.

In the meat of the publication are 31 chapters which give the low-down on the each sport. Each chapter opens with when and where it will take place, the number of athletes expected to take part, and the number of medals up for grabs.

The first page of each chapter also outlines its Olympic presence, the format the sport takes in the 'Games'. It discusses the in-form athletes and most recent winners and the countries who are expected to challenge for the medals, while it also lists the leaderboard for countries with most past champions.

The book then explains why you should watch the sport in question, waxing lyrical about each. The next section deals with its origins. These bring mixed rewards as some are genuinely interesting, some are dull, some go back in time, some less than a century. Hurling, for example, is referenced in the hockey chapter.

Once the history is put to bed, usually in two to four pages, the technical aspects of the sport are discussed. This includes how the sport works plus the differences between various disciplines and events. The chapters end with that particular sport's history at the Olympic Games; giving a round-up and name-checking the most successful athletes.

It should also be noted that 'How to Watch the Olympics' is well broken up with diagrams explaining certain aspects of each sport, as well as several pictures in each chapter showing sporting greats in action.

For the fan that always seems to be watching some sport on the box, this is probably a book to stay clear of. You'll learn something from the brief histories of the sports but that's not why you're watching the Olympic Games; you are watching to live the great achievements here and now.

For those that only take a passing interest in sport and will enjoy flicking between the array on offer between August 5 and 21, then this book is probably aimed at you. It will add depth to your knowledge but more importantly give you an understanding of what's taking place. A little tip for those: keep an eye out for the BMX racing from August 17, as it's quite the spectacle.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

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